Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germain Chronicles

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is the first woman to be named a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild. She has been nominated for the Edgar, World Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Awards and was the first female president of the Horror Writers Association. She is best known as the creator of the heroic vampire, the Count Saint-Germain. The latest volume in the Saint-Germain Chronicles is Burning Shadows.

Here she shares some insights about the difficulty of casting the principal parts in any adaptations of her Saint-Germain Chronicles ... and names some actors who might have done the story justice:
When asked what actor I would like to play Saint-Germain, for the last quarter century, I've said James Mason in 1954. He was short, he was smart, he was a grown-up, he had incredible dark eyes, and a truly seductive voice; he rode well, he was a fine musician, and he seemed to lack that short man's chip on the shoulder -- I say seemed because I can only assess that from his acting; I didn't know the man himself. But no, I didn't and I don't imagine him as Saint-Germain while I write. Since the character is based on a real man, when I visualize him, that is who I see in my mind's eye. The historical man looked a lot like the late French film director François Truffaut, but with eyebrows angled in a more Slavic manner than and his nose more out of line than Truffaut's.

With a book series that has run longer than some actor's careers, settling on one for the role has seemed a bit ... unrealistic. There are actors who might do it very well, but as time goes by, who they are changes. Since Saint-Germain himself was about five-foot-six and stocky, he isn't the current "image" of a vampire, and that narrows the field right there. While I occasionally see an actor I think might be the right fit for the role, it doesn't happen very often, since the real man is so well-established in my imagination. But I have a great respect for the manner in which an actor can accommodate a role and give it authenticity through their art, and I sometimes can see possibilities in unlikely places.

Another factor in these stories -- and it would be a crucial one in casting most of the novels -- is Roger. The right balance needs to be struck between Saint-Germain and Roger. Among the current crop of actors who would look about the right age and can play the demeanor is British actor Michael Kitchen. But if he were cast in the role, it would definately influence who would play Saint-Germain. The relationship between the two is one of the major means of establishing that the foreignness of the two isn't just geographical. And with as long-enduring a relationship as those two have, much of what goes on with them is by implication as much as discussion, so the chemistry of the actors would be very important in terms of getting the tone right.

The great stage director Frank Corsaro and I once spent the better part of a dinner discussing who should play Saint-Germain, and Roger, for that matter. The time factor entered into our thoughts: in the 70s, Alan Bates (he'd need contact lenses, but short and tending to stocky; perhaps a bit too flamboyant, which Saint-Germain distinctly is not); for the 90s, Sting (wig/dye-job, contact lenses, a bit too tall, but great presence); Ralph Fiennes for the end of the 90s (wrong build, needs contacts, and a strong Roger to anchor, but has wonderful self-contained intensity). For Roger, in the 70s, Ian Richardson (providing the Saint-Germain had a more beautiful and distinctive speaking voice than Richardson's), in the 80s Edward Petherbridge (too tall, and would need a very elegant Saint-Germain to out-elegant him); in the 90s, we couldn't agree. We also had a good time debating Olivia, ranging over a great number of really good actresses, but never narrowed it down to one per decade. Frank said that it was a juicy role for any woman, and I, naturally, agreed. We were also in full accord about Saint Sebastien: the only actor for the role was, and is, Christopher Lee: the book is dedicated to him with an operatic joke, and he is familiar with the book. If he weren't available, we thought --- staying with actors who have played Dracula --- possibly in the 80s Jack Palance, and in the 90s Frank Langella.

There is also the problem that leading men tend to be handsome, and handsome changes from era to era and culture to culture. The real Saint-Germain wasn't handsome by the standard of his day, he was attractive, and attractive remains fairly constant. Casting the role to adhere to the standards of male handsomeness for this time will be inconsistent with standards of other centuries and other cultures. Making full allowance for the adaptability of actors, perhaps Saint-Germain would be better served by one of many fine character actors who are attractive but not so handsome that their very faces scream "Early twenty-first century!" After all, the old guy is over 4,000 years old, and Roger is just over 2,000, and they've been over a good portion of the world.

If a producer started out today to film all the Saint-Germain tales, novels and shorter works, at the rate of one a year, it would be 2034 before the films caught up to where I am now --- and that doesn't include Out of the House of Life or the Olivia books. In the meantime, I plan to write some more, so there would be at least two, and probably three Saint-Germains, and the same number of Rogers, so the casting conundrum would continue into the future, and probably remain just as perplexing as it is now.
Visit Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's website.

--Marshal Zeringue